Silvia Enow Abru

Research interests
Digital anthropology, culture and history, racialization, gender, social mobility, economic anthropology

Regional Areas
West Africa, Cameroon, India, China


The Influence of Fashion Industry on African Hairstyles

Hairstyles have always been an integral part of black history and identity and, prior to the slave trade era, natural African hairstyles were extensively used for identification and communication. A particular hairstyle symbolised when a female has reached puberty, is ready for marriage, is married or has received recognition from the king however, since the 20th century, many of these hairstyles witnessed major transformation in their traditional values either instigated by early missionary activities, social mobility, fashion industries and role models (Byrd &Tarps, 2002).

The planned project delves into unravelling the genesis of wig-wearing among black African women and also examines why nowadays, most women in sub-Saharan Africa prefer wearing wigs to adorning their natural hair.  An ethnographic study in Yaoundé and its environs will be employed to analyse whether or not the evolving hairstyles are undermining some of the traditional hairstyles and local identities. Many of the beautiful traditional female hairstyles are gradually eroding, giving way to Western or other newer hairstyles. As cultures evolve, the necessity to preserve them also grows stronger. If precautions are not taken to preserve a cultural heritage, the chance that it will be extinct only rises higher.

Furthermore, the study seeks to make significant contributions in the field of Economic Anthropology by examining the politics of transnational trade and the global circulation of cosmetics and hair accessories, paying attention to the origins of these commodities from countries like India and China. Emphasis will be laid on how the aspirations of social mobility is providing economic actors across the globe with knowledge of the market demands of different people. Even though there is a high demand for wigs amidst women of sub-Saharan Africa, it has only a few manufacturing units to serve these needs. Most wigs are imported from India, China, Vietnam, the USA, and Brazil. Moreover, this work will take into consideration the way sub-Saharan African women conceptualise aesthetics and how they invest resources in these accessories.

Keywords: female hairstyles, Afro hair, Sub-Saharan Africa, wig-economy, Fashion industry, Cameroon.